Last week, as a Democrat Abroad, I admitted I was worried about the US presidential election after the Republican National Convention. (http://wp.me/p1Ytmx-7H)
Mitt Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan had pushed all the right buttons, Ann Romney gave a good would-be First Lady speech, and they even had a Hollywood star as a guest speaker. Okay, the latter didn’t go over as well as expected, given that Clint Eastwood threw away the script and talked to an empty chair, pretending Barack Obama was in it. A source at the convention said the Republicans were furious and thought it was “16 wasted minutes.” I thought it was funny.
The all-white, all-right Republican convention caused concerns because it had successfully proved Mitt Romney was a human being and not a robot, targeted unemployment as an issue that would hurt the Democrats, and used the Religious Right to paint Barack Obama as a pro-choice, same sex-marriage advocate – as if that was evil. They even secured former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as a speaker, in a bid to disguise their presidential candidate’s complete lack of foreign policy expertise.
But I need not have worried, as the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina this week answered all my concerns. Mitt Romney was still human and a nice guy – it was hard to disprove that – but Vice-President Joe Biden summed up what was wrong with the Republican’s attitude toward the auto industry: “Mitt Romney grew up in Detroit. His father ran American Motors. Yet he was willing to let Detroit go bankrupt. It’s not that he’s a bad guy. I’m sure he grew up loving cars as much as I did. I just don’t think he understood—I just don’t think he understood what saving the automobile industry meant to all of America. I think he saw it the Bain way. Balance sheets. Write-offs.” (http://wapo.st/RgnIFF)
There is a high unemployment rate in America, and no one, especially Barack Obama, could deny that. (Figures released overnight showed unemployment fell by two tenths of a point to 8.1 per cent, but only 96 thousand jobs were added. It could have been worse!) But former President Bill Clinton, in a great political speech in Charlotte, explained how that happened: “In 2010, as the president’s recovery program kicked in, the job losses stopped and things began to turn around. The Recovery Act saved or created millions of jobs and cut taxes — let me say this again — cut taxes for 95 percent of the American people. And in the last 29 months, our economy has produced about 4.5 million private-sector jobs. We could have done better, but last year the Republicans blocked the president’s job plan, costing the economy more than a million new jobs. So here’s another job score. President Obama: plus 4.5 million. Congressional Republicans: zero.” (http://wapo.st/P3tZmt )
Clinton’s speech was the best of the convention, and I’m not the only one to praise it. Piers Morgan of CNN said: “That was pound for pound, dollar for dollar, one of the great modern political speeches I ever heard.” Another CNN veteran, Wolf Blitzer, said after Clinton’s 48-minute speech: “I have been watching this former president of the United States going back to 1992 when I was the senior White House correspondent and I have to tell you this may have been the best speech I’ve ever heard over all these years.”
And the respected CNN senior political analyst and adviser to Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton, David Gergen, had this to say of his former boss: “He’s been giving speeches for over 20 years, and there’s simply no one better in America … plus I think this is his most influential and most effective speech since he left the presidency, and if the electorate is still movable, he moved it.”
Needless to say, I think the electorate is still movable, which is why I am more optimistic this week, even though there are still two months to the election.
KERRY: ASK OSAMA BIN LADEN IF HE’S BETTER OFF NOW
Clinton wasn’t afraid to take on the Republican line of “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” – a question Ronald Reagan asked in a 1980 debate which helped him defeat Jimmy Carter. In the best quote of his possible election-winning speech, Clinton said: “No president — not me or any of my predecessors — no one could have fully repaired all the damage in just four years.”
And former presidential candidate and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry, also came up a brilliant answer to Romney’s “Are you better off now” taunt, which also showed up the Republican’s lack foreign policy deficiency: “Ask Osama bin Laden if he’s better off now than he was four years ago.” (http://wapo.st/Rgn5ft) Even better for the Democrats, the Republicans can’t criticise the response since the killing of bin Laden was the most popular act of the Obama presidency.
Senator Kerry also gave Mitt Romney good advice after pointing out his various backflips on positions taken on Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan: “Mr. Romney, here’s a little advice; before you debate Barack Obama on foreign policy, you’d better finish the debate with yourself.” I only wish John Kerry was as eloquent in 2004 when he was the presidential candidate.
Among the many good convention speakers: Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown University law student, shut out of Congressional hearings on contraception, and lambasted by shock jock Rush Limbaugh. She praised an “America in which our president, when he hears a young woman has been verbally attacked, thinks of his daughters — not his delegates or donors — and stands with all women. And strangers come together, reach out and lift her up. And then, instead of trying to silence her, you invite me here, and give me a microphone, to amplify our voice.”(http://wapo.st/RNjEaX )
And Harvard Law Professor and Massachusetts Senatorial candidate, Elizabeth Warren, who looked like everybody’s grandmother, and sounded like a Sixties radical in her anti-Wall Street rhetoric: “After all, Mitt Romney’s the guy who said corporations are people. No, Governor Romney, corporations are not people. People have hearts, they have kids, they get jobs, they get sick, they cry, they dance. They live, they love, and they die. And that matters. That matters because we don’t run this country for corporations, we run it for people.” Her speech drew thunderous applause. (http://abcn.ws/OpfTsA )
Last but not least in this trifecta of outstanding speakers is Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, a Catholic social justice organization, which has organised a Nuns on the Bus tour of the US criticising the Paul Ryan budget. She told the convention her group agreed with the US Conference of Bishops, which is unusual, given that the bishops and the nuns have been arguing over Network’s alleged “radical feminist themes.” After noting that Ryan is Catholic, she told the DNC: “Paul Ryan claims this budget reflects the principles of our shared faith. But the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops stated that the Ryan budget failed a basic moral test because it would harm families living in poverty. We agree with our bishops.”
The most poignant moment of the convention came when Gabby Giffords, the former Arizona Congresswoman who survived an assassination attempt last year, walked out on stage with the aid of Florida Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, to lead the Pledge of Allegiance. There wasn’t a dry eye in the arena, nor in my house either. A truly inspiring woman.
EVA LONGORIA: “NO EMPTY CHAIRS”
There were the usual Hollywood suspects at the DNC: film stars like Scarlett Johansson and Kerry Washington, who urged young people to vote; Eva Longoria of Desperate Housewives fame, who as co-chair of the Obama campaign, has been on the road for months; and performers like the Foo Fighters, James Taylor, Marc Antony, Mary J. Blige and actor Jeff Bridges and his band, The Abiders. Longoria promised she would bring no empty chairs to the convention, and she didn’t, explaining her campaign speech was going to be different than Clint Eastwood’s, and it was.
Despite the pundits saying the Obama speech wasn’t up to his highest standards, I still think his ending paragraph had the usual Martin Luther King Jnr cadence. We’ve been listening to his speeches since the 2004 convention, which confirmed his rising star status, so all he’s done is raise our expectations. This was a presidential oration: “America, I never said this journey would be easy, and I won’t promise that now. Yes, our path is harder, but it leads to a better place. Yes, our road is longer, but we travel it together. We don’t turn back. We leave no one behind. We pull each other up. We draw strength from our victories, and we learn from our mistakes, but we keep our eyes fixed on that distant horizon, knowing that Providence is with us, and that we are surely blessed to be citizens of the greatest nation on Earth. Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless these United States.”
The last word on the convention goes to my friend, Mary Sullivan, a delegate from Vermont, who emailed me this message from Charlotte airport as she was heading home: “I am on such a high — an exhausted high, but a high nonetheless. The delegates are ready to work as hard as we can as if survival of the planet depends on it. Oh, it does, doesn’t it?” It does, Mary, it does.
Suffice it to say, Barack Obama will get a bigger bounce in the polls than Mitt Romney. There were better speeches and talent, and no hurricane bearing down on the delegates at the beginning of the event – though the President had to cancel plans to give his speech at the Bank of America stadium due to predicted torrential rain (which was over by Thursday night). But there are still 58 days left in the campaign, with three presidential debates and one vice-presidential debate scheduled.
The debates can change people’s minds, like Reagan’s 1980 comment “Are you better off now than you were four years ago,” or his witty riposte during the second presidential debate with Walter Mondale in 1984: “I will not make age an issue in this campaign. I’m not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” And both Mitt Romney and Joe Biden have a penchant for political gaffes.
I’m predicting an Obama victory in a close election, with the swing states playing an important role, especially Michigan, Florida and Ohio. The first candidate to secure 270 Electoral College votes is the winner, and the New York Times Electoral Map now has Barack Obama with 237 votes and Mitt Romney with 206. It’s a very tight race, as the map shows: (http://nyti.ms/IwvD9f )
The real campaign has finally begun.